Despite significant problems with many of the 21 new buses in the Island Explorer fleet this year, the bus system has had more riders this year than in 2018. ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Bus system overcomes setback

BAR HARBOR — The Island Explorer bus system rebounded from an early computer system problem that disrupted service to surpass last summer’s ridership numbers.

The fare-free Island Explorer operates 31 buses on 10 routes serving Mount Desert Island, Trenton and the Schoodic Peninsula. It was to start this season June 23 with 21 new replacement buses.

“We had huge problems with them when they first arrived,” said Paul Murphy, executive director of Downeast Transportation, which operates the Island Explorer.

“Nineteen of the 21 buses had significant failures, so it hurt. It made our start-up difficult.”

Murphy said the problem was a conflict between the computer system for the buses’ Ford chassis and the propane fuel system’s computer program.

“It took a couple of weeks to get that figured out and fixed, “he said. “Once that happened, the buses got on the road, and they really run quite well. We’ve had good feedback from the public on them, and mechanically they have been very reliable since then.”

Fortunately, Murphy said, Downeast Transportation still had the old buses that the new ones were purchased to replace.

“So, we were able to put them out on the road,” he said. “But … because we believed we were going to part company with them, we hadn’t wanted to spend a whole lot of money getting them ready for the season. We were able to get by, but it was less than ideal.”

Murphy said the manufacturer of the new buses, Hometown Trolley of Crandon, Wis., covered the cost of resolving the computer problem.

All of the buses that have been replaced had been in the Island Explorer fleet since 2006 or 2007, so they were “beyond their rated useful life, which is 10 years,” Murphy said.

In 2017, the Maine Department of Transportation contracted with Hometown Trolley to build the 21 new buses at a cost of $4.99 million.

Another eight Island Explorer buses have been in service since 2010, which means their life expectancy is almost up.

“We’re hoping to have seven or maybe eight more new buses by the start of the season next year,” Murphy said.

They will be manufactured by the same company.

Last month, the bus system counted 233,161 passenger trips, up from 225,998 in August of last year.

For this summer season overall – June 23 through Aug. 31 – ridership totaled 505,008, an increase of about 1.3 percent over last summer’s total of 498,289.

The Island Explorer operates on a somewhat reduced schedule from Sept. 1 through Oct. 13, the last day of service.

Last year’s ridership total for the entire season was 624,076, an increase of 7 percent over the 2017 total.

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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